Coronavirus quarantine in Marsa Matrouh for China evacuees, sources say doctors, nurses tricked into the assignment

The Health Ministry announced in a statement Sunday that Egyptians evacuated from China in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak will be quarantined in Marsa Matrouh.  

There are 350 Egyptians, some accompanied by their families, in the Chinese city of Wuhan, according to Mohamed al-Badry, the Egyptian ambassador to China, who made an on-air statement on the DMC satellite channel on Friday. Wuhan is the city where the new coronavirus was first identified. 

Egypt stepped up its public response to the coronavirus after the World Health Organization declared it a “public health emergency of international concern” last Thursday. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi directed the government to evacuate Egyptians in China, and Prime Minister Mostafa Madbuly announced that the Chinese authorities had agreed to the evacuation plan.

In its statement on Thursday, the Health Ministry said a quarantine was being set up for the returnees and the medical staff who would be accompanying them on the flight from China. Although it did not specify where that quarantine would be. Doctors Syndicate member Mahmoud Arafa told Mada Masr that the ministry sent a large number of doctors to Marsa Matrouh without explaining that they would be dealing with evacuees from China potentially infected with the virus. 

According to Arafa, the ministry announced that it needs nurses and doctors of various specializations to work at the Nagila Hospital in Matrouh for 15 days, in exchange for pay of up to LE20,000, hotel accommodation and return flight tickets. A large number of doctors went and were checked into a hotel near the hospital on Friday, after which they were told they would monitor the evacuees from China, who would stay in the same hotel. The doctors were also told that anyone suspected of having contracted coronavirus would also be sent to the hospital immediately.

Arafa said the Doctors Syndicate called at least 10 of the doctors who went to Matrouh, all of whom voiced their objection to the ministry’s lack of clarity. The doctors did not know the nature of their assignment before traveling, nor did the doctors and nurses receive any training on how to treat coronavirus infections, identify the symptoms or prevent the virus from spreading. They were also not given proper instructions on the necessary measures to take if a case were confirmed. 

A different medical source from the Nozha Health Department told Mada Masr that the Health Ministry issued instructions to the department to choose male doctors and nurses to go on a work mission to Marsa Matrouh — without clarifying what this mission entailed — in exchange for “a very attractive financial reward, hotel accommodation, and flight tickets.” The source added that the bureau sent a memo to all the health units and family planning centers affiliated with the Heliopolis and the Nozha health departments to inform them about the mission and highlight its numerous financial benefits. According to the source, more than 100 doctors and nurses, most of whom work in family planning centers, traveled to Matrouh on Friday after receiving assurances from the Health Ministry and health department supervisors that there is no relation between the assignment in Matrouh and the ministry’s plan to respond to coronavirus. Arafa, the Doctors Syndicate member, considers this to be “an outright deception and abuse of doctors.”

The medical source said that the ministry has placed the doctors in “an unfair position with coronavirus,” stressing that they were not told the truth about the mission they were sent to do in Matrouh, nor given adequate training on how to deal with the virus. The source added that the ministry has also put Egyptian citizens in the care of unqualified and untrained practitioners. 

At time of publishing, Mada Masr had not received a response from the spokesperson of the Health Ministry as to whether doctors were sent on the assignment without any training on coronavirus.

This is the second time the Health Ministry has faced severe criticism in recent weeks after three doctors were killed and 11 injured en route to a last-minute training, which led to a protest outside the Doctors Syndicate and accusations from the syndicate that the Health Ministry routinely mistreats doctors.

Two separate medical sources from the Nozha and Heliopolis health departments told Mada Masr that a number of mostly male doctors, pharmacists and nurses have been assigned to travel to China on a special airplane that will bring back Egyptian families held there due to the outbreak of coronavirus. The medical practitioners were each promised financial rewards upwards of LE25,000 in exchange for traveling. It was stressed that they would not leave the airplane, and that their roles would be limited to providing care to the passengers during the return trip to Cairo. They would then receive a 15-day vacation upon their return, during which they will also be quarantined to make sure they have not been infected.  

EgyptAir suspended its flights to and from the city of Hangzhou on Saturday and is set to suspend the rest of its flights to the country on February 4. The United States and Australia have imposed travel bans on China, and the US has imposed a mandatory quarantine for its citizens returning from the Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital.  

Last Thursday, the World Health Organization declared a “public health emergency of international concern” over the outbreak of coronavirus, two days after confirming that coronavirus cases were found in 18 countries other than China.


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